The year Cork hurling got its mojo back... why 2017 will live long in the memory of the Rebel faithful

The year Cork hurling got its mojo back... why 2017 will live long in the memory of the Rebel faithful
Patrick Horgan was terrific in 2017. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

THIS was the year when the swagger returned to Cork hurling.

Darragh Fitzgibbon ignited the Cork midfield. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Darragh Fitzgibbon ignited the Cork midfield. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

There were other times in the modern era — and a decent stretch from beating Clare in the first round of Munster in 2013 to lifting the provincial title the following summer — that the Rebel faithful could strut around with their heads held high, but 2017 felt like a watershed.

The only nagging concern is that Kieran Kingston’s departure will derail Cork at the top level, especially as the likes of Mark Coleman and Colm Spillane now carry the weight of expectation going into the new campaign.

Mark Coleman was a promising minor in 2015 but exceeded all expectation last summer. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Mark Coleman was a promising minor in 2015 but exceeded all expectation last summer. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Yet, whatever happens under John Meyler, there should be a confidence again across all the grades, from the Harty Cup upwards, that Cork teams are good enough to take on anyone. There’s a fine line between self-belief and arrogance but any outfit from Leeside without that bit of cockiness is on a hiding to nothing.

Colin O'Brien  with his grandfather and huge Cork supporter Joe Cole after O'Brien's brilliant display for the U17s against Galway. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Colin O'Brien  with his grandfather and huge Cork supporter Joe Cole after O'Brien's brilliant display for the U17s against Galway. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Three of the four Munster trophies were captured in 2017, while the U17s grabbed the All-Ireland and the minors just ran out of steam on the September stage. Such success was overdue given the talent in the county and the savage work going in for some time at the coalface, in development squads, schools, and, most importantly, clubs.

All that was happening without the type of sizzling performances that inspire the next generation of Cork hurlers. For a couple of years the likes of Tony Kelly, Richie Hogan, and Austin Gleeson were the flair players to copy, but now mini Rebels can mimic the stickwork of Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibbon, and minors like Brian Turnbull and Daire Connery.

With the sliotar in his hand Brian Turnbull was hard to stop. Picture: Dan Linehan
With the sliotar in his hand Brian Turnbull was hard to stop. Picture: Dan Linehan

The seniors’ provincial triumph was one of the sweetest of all time, given the calibre of the opposition, the style of the hurling, the fresh faces introduced, and the connection with the crowd. Patrick Horgan and Conor Lehane reasserted themselves as among the most naturally gifted forwards at inter-county level, while Anthony Nash, Damien Cahalane, Chris Joyce, and Alan Cadogan excelled too in Thurles, even if the All-Ireland semi-final on Jones Road was one that got away.

Damien Cahalane soloing out of defence. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Damien Cahalane soloing out of defence. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Michael Cahalane’s killer goal against Tipp, Lehane’s catch and turn point against the Déise and Cahalane’s charge from the edge of the square in the closing stages of the win over the Banner were magic moments.

The minor games with Tipp were stone-cold classics, especially the replay on a Monday night at a heaving Páirc Uí Rinn. Though they ended up getting reeled in by the Premier in a tense conclusion, the electricity generated among the crowd midway through the second half was incredible.Particularly by coach John Dwyer's joy on the sideline at a well-worked team score finished by full-back Seán O'Leary Hayes and Connery wheeling away waving his finger in the air after landing a long-range gem. Having been hugely impressed by Connery at wing-back for the Na Piarsaigh's minors in 2016, he was a joy to watch at midfield.

Daire Connery fires up the Cork crowd.
Daire Connery fires up the Cork crowd.

With the pressure off, Denis Ring’s charges rose magnificently to the occasion in the Munster final, cutting through Clare with a blistering brand of hurling and Evan Sheehan blasting two explosive goals. Unheralded players like Liam O’Shea from Lisgoold and Conor O’Callaghan from Dromtarriffe made as much of a mark as the crew from the likes of Midleton, the Glen, and Na Piarsaigh.

The U17 All-Ireland was off-Broadway and though the final was staged in Croker, it wasn’t televised. Still, Limerick, Tipp, Waterford — on an unseasonably Arctic late April night in Dungarvan — Galway and Dublin were seen off.

Even though there was a crossover of players to the minor ranks, this group seized their chance to land a big prize and the likes of Blake Murphy, Ronan Sheehan, and Colin O’Brien could feature down the line at U21.

Declan Dalton strikes a penalty at the final minute against Waterford. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Declan Dalton strikes a penalty at the final minute against Waterford. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

The U21s’ loss to Limerick was pretty frustrating but in mitigation, Fitzgibbon and Luke Meade were sorely missed. And defeat couldn’t take from Deccie Dalton’s performance and nerveless penalty against Waterford in Walsh Park.

That Thursday night border raid was a definite highlight of the summer with bainisteoir John Meyler’s emotional interview after on TG4 summing up how unlikely Cork’s win had been after Fitzgibbon was dismissed and sub Jack O’Connor earned the late reprieve. O’Connor, having looked the part for the county minors in 2016, also had an outstanding campaign for Sars, picking up a Rearden’s Club All-Star for his senior exploits and firing the club to the Premier U21 county.

Only the hardcore travelled down for the U21 win, which made it more memorable.

Dalton celebrates with his dad Robbie at Walsh Park. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Dalton celebrates with his dad Robbie at Walsh Park. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile


More in this section

Sponsored Content